Stony Brook basketball fans are familiar with senior Eric McAlister, the athletic 6-8 power forward who has shown occasional flashes of his skill only to recede into the background. Well, the “new and improved” McAlister revealed himself in the Seawolves’ 71-55 opening victory over Marist Friday night at Pritchard Gym.
McAlister (No. 22, pictured) began his senior season with an alley-oop dunk to start the game and then went to work, pounding the boards, slashing to the hoop and playing solid defense. He finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals, one blocked shot and only one turnover.
And that’s how the Seawolves begin to replace graduated America East player of the year Tommy Brenton. Coach Steve Pikiell always liked McAlister’s talent, but since Brenton led the Seawolves in rebounding, assists and defensive acumen and could move between small forward and power forward, it was hard to take him off the floor.
Pikiell predicted McAlister would “emerge from Tommy Brenton’s shadow” this season, and it didn’t take long for that to become evident against Marist. McAlister combined with center Jameel Warney (16 points-13 rebounds-4 assists) and guard Anthony Jackson (22 points) to pave the way for the win.
Speaking of McAlister, Pikiell said, “He’s been by far our best player in the preseason. He’s been doing this every day. He’s a good player. People don’t realize Tommy played 36 minutes a game. It was hard to take Tommy off the court last year.
“Eric had a shorter leash. He had some great games for us last year, too. There were signs of that, but I had the luxury of having the best four-man in the league last year. Eric’s going to have a great season. You saw how aggressive he was jumping for rebounds. And he can really score in the low post. I think you’ll see that.”
McAlister said the game he had against Marist is what he expects from himself on a regular basis this season. “Definitely, I’ve just got to be consistent with it,” McAlister said. “Having Tommy on the floor was wonderful, but a lot of my strengths were his strengths.”
No one player will replace everything Brenton did, but the Seawolves showed they can get it done by committee, outrebounding Marist, 43-34, and holding the Red Foxes to 30.2 percent shooting. As well as Warney passed, though, he can’t pass it to himself.
Pikiell noted his pleasure with redshirt-freshman small forward Ahmad Walker, who had a team-high five assists and zero turnovers along with two steals, four rebounds and four points in 22 minutes.
Walker’s hustle was impressive, but his Stony Brook debut will be noted by many for an incident late in the game when he came down with a rebound, was swarmed by Marist players and swung an elbow that caught Chevaughn Lewis in the nose and drew blood and a flagrant one technical foul.
“He grabbed the rebound, and the guy was up close to him and he’s not supposed to do that,” Pikiell said of the careless elbow. “He’s a freshman, and freshmen make those kind of mistakes. He’s a tough kid, and they jumped right in his grill. He needs to do a better job of securing the rebound and letting them foul him. It’s something he’s got to learn from. You don’t want to see that in basketball.”
As for everything else Pikiell saw from Walker and McAlister, he had to like the way his starting forwards looked first time out of the box this season.